I loved listening to the radio when I was a small boy. My ear pressed up against the speaker of the mahogany radiogram, a furniture feature in our modest living room. All those amazing artists whose voices shaped my life, i.e., Guy Mitchell, Rosemary Clooney, the young Elvis, Buddy Holly, Harry Belafonte, Anthony Newley, Eddie Cochrane, Patsy Cline, Sammy Davis Jnr., Little Richard, Jimmie Rodgers, Bobby Darin, Johnny Desmond, Louis Armstrong, Helen Shapiro, Johnny Horton, Ned Miller, Burl Ives, Johnny Ray, Tommy Steele, The Ink Spots, etc., etc. An eclectic bunch, and I loved ’em all.
My mum said I had an acute ear for voices and as a party trick she and my dad would challenge the guests to put the radio on and I would guess the singer within a few bars. I was four.
My parents were slow to get their own television set so unless we visited relatives on a Sunday we had to settle for listening to the radio. It was our only outlet for news updates, music, plays and comedy sketches. Oh, and serials. I’ve always felt so sorry for my mum. She was addicted to a daytime radio soap opera serial entitled “Doctor Paul” – it ran for a phenomenal 4,634 episodes and my mum listened to 4,633 with rapture. I could’ve been hanging from a rope in the bathroom and she wouldn’t have noticed. Unfortunately she had to go out one day for a real doctor’s appointment and came home to the devastating news that she had missed the final episode. I tell you, the grief I witnessed from that poor woman rivalled Jackie’s after the J.F.K assassination. She never did find out what exactly happened. So I guess she shared that with Jackie too.
Those radio plays and serials were magic and a real art form, creating a visual world in our minds using just voices and effects. Orson Welles learned much from his radio days and brought a lot of his sound tricks to his film-making. If you close your eyes and listen to “Citizen Kane” it is as aurally interesting as its visuals.
When I was 14 and a child no school room could teach, I ran away and never went back, no doubt much to the relief of my teachers. My mum, who always took my side when I was in trouble and despairing, accepted my decision without judgement or debate, and took me into the city to try and get me a job as an office boy at radio station 3DB. She knew I loved music and the entertainment business so in her intuitive wisdom she felt this was the right starting point for my future life. And that I would learn a lot. And so I did. For the rest of her life my ambition was fuelled by my efforts to repay her faith in me.
As fate would have it, 3DB were not looking for an office boy at that time. Another lesson learned – success is all about timing. So, not taking no for an answer my quick thinking mum walked me a few blocks to radio station 3UZ. And yes, a meeting with destiny. The general manager, Mr. Lewis Bennett, a man of such class and distinction he has had a lasting effect on me, gave me the once over, liked the fact that I dressed like him in a nice suit, polished shoes and a bow tie, and gave me the job. I smiled at him with tears in my eyes as I felt the joy of finally being accepted in the outside world after years of humiliation and rejection in the then cruel school system. The warm inner joy I felt at being wanted and appreciated made me work my guts out for $16 a week so as not to let Mr. Bennett down. Sometimes he even sent me his leftover lunchtime crayfish sandwiches, and I sat in my chair in his secretary’s office, and slowly savoured them bite by bite, feeling like a king. And silently giving thanks for how lucky I was.
That job imbued me with many lasting ethics – the pride of working hard, not letting anyone down, being on time, not leaving until the job is done, being polite to people, the unselfishness of always presenting a positive attitude even if you’re down, and not taking the job for granted but, instead, always remembering that you have that job because someone had faith in you.
I learned so much in my three years at 3UZ that it’s too much to detail but, because it’s so ingrained in me, even today I may do something, or give a young person advice, and then realise it’s a lesson learned from those radio days.
In those magical days of the Sixties, dee jays were gods. And I worked with the best of them – Stan Rofe, Ken Sparkes, John Vertigan, Allan Lappen, Don Lunn, Graham Cherry, Sam Anglesea, Noel Ferrier, Mary Hardy, Jimmy Hannon, etc, etc, etc. We will not see their like again. Because, like a rare vintage wine, those days are gone.
But some of us remember.
(c) Frank Howson 2017